Students and staff of the Lida Yeshiva, established by Yitsḥak Ya‘akov Reines in Lida, Russia (now in Belarus), ca. 1905. (YIVO)

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Reines, Yitsḥak Ya‘akov

(1839–1915), rabbi, rosh yeshivah, and halakhic authority. Born in Karlin, near Pinsk, Yitsḥak Ya‘akov Reines studied in the Volozhin yeshiva and served as rabbi in various Jewish communities in Lithuania, including Saukenai in the district of Kovno, Svencionys in the district of Vilna, and, from 1886 in Lida, Belorussia. Reines was one of the most prominent rabbis in Russia from the last quarter of the nineteenth century until World War I. His signature appears alongside those of rabbis Naftali Tsevi Berlin of Volozhin, Yosef Dov Soloveichik of Brisk (Brest), and others on various proclamations to Russian Jewry regarding communal issues, such as the introduction of general studies into the yeshiva curriculum and the establishment of the Kolel Perushimin Kovno. Eventually he was ostracized by much of the rabbinic leadership because of his support for political Zionism and the modernization of yeshiva education.

In Svencionys in 1882 and afterward in Lida in 1905, Reines established yeshivas that introduced general studies into their curricula, in order to train a new type of rabbi to serve Jewish communities in Russia and Poland. These institutions were revolutionary in their day. Reines’s attempt to take a middle path gave rise to opposition to the yeshiva in Svencionys from both extremes in the Jewish community: traditional rabbis, on the one hand, and the maskilim, who championed Russification, on the other.

In his writings, Reines shows great awareness of the spiritual and social pressures to which Russian Jewry were subject: the necessity and desire to integrate themselves into Russian civil society as well as the desire to further a Jewish national identity. Reines tried to satisfy these wishes through the educational curriculum that he established and through the spirit in which the Lida yeshiva was run. He received widespread support for his efforts from broad circles of Russian Jewry, including those who were not connected to the religious elements of society.

Reines’s programs lay the foundation for the type of yeshiva high school that developed years later in Israel and the United States. These schools trained Jews to fully integrate themselves into society at large, while at the same time molding them with a national consciousness. The founders of these institutions—Rabbi Shlomo Polachek at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York and Rabbi Ya‘akov Berman at Yeshivat ha-Darom in Reḥovot—were among Reines’s spiritual disciples.

Reines participated in conferences of the World Zionist Organization from the Third Conference on; even before that, he was active in the Ḥoveve Tsiyon movement. He was also one of the initiators of Mizraḥi (in Vilna, in 1902) and its first leader. It was he who came to an agreement with Ahad Ha-Am at a meeting of Russian Zionists in Minsk (1902) on establishing two educational committees in the Zionist federations, one for “national religious education” and a second for “progressive education.” Through this agreement, Reines prevented a split in the Zionist movement between traditional Jews and maskilim and set a pattern for the structure of education in Israel to this very day, a system that distinguishes between the stream of national religious education and that of general education. Reines also supported Herzl and the Uganda plan.

In encouraging observant and nonobservant Jews to cooperate, Reines set the principles upon which religious Zionism is based. The movement comprised two assumptions: that Zionism is a movement directed at rescuing Jews (and that Jews have never refrained from working together in such situations); and that, eventually, the Land of Israel will cause those who now violate Jewish law to return to the fold.

Reines was a prolific writer, and his works enjoyed great resonance in the rabbinic world. He published more than 20 books on halakhic matters (‘Edut be-Ya‘akov, consisting of responsa and sermons; 1872), Torah study (Ḥotem tokhnit; 1880–1881), exile and redemption (Nod shel dema‘ot; 1891–1908), religious Zionist thought (Or ḥadash ‘al Tsiyon [A New Light on Zion]; 1902), and Torah outlook (Sefer ha-‘arakhim; 1926). He also left behind many volumes of manuscripts.

One of Reines’s most important contributions was his unique style of preaching. In the realm of halakhic thinking, he proposed new analytical methods of examining halakhic issues that were later elaborated by other scholars including Ḥayim Soloveichik of Brisk and Mosheh Avigdor Ami’el of Tel Aviv. His method of expounding midrash and agadah attracted considerable attention, and some scholars hold that his activity in this area was his most important contribution to rabbinic literature.

Suggested Reading

Ge’ulah Bat Yehudah, Ish ha-me’orot (Jerusalem, 1985); Ze’ev Aryeh Rabiner, Talele orot (Tel Aviv, 1954/55); Joseph Shapira, Hagut, halakhah ve-tsiyonut (Tel Aviv, 2002).



Translated from Hebrew by David Strauss